I found myself feeling slightly below par mentally the other day. Contemplating my next moves has brought out my melancholy side, that’s the one that normally stays in because it does not want to bum anyone out – least of all me. It tends to shine through at most inauspicious of moments and makes me act like a psycho whilst inebriated, for instance. At times I try to drown it in whiskey, a method that often backfires big time – refer to previous sentence. My current inability to completely destroy myself and my worries at the climbing gym does not help any.
Unfortunately, it was not gin o’clock, and neither was an actual human person present to give me a real hug. I needed perking up. Being who I am, I cook in emotionally taxing situations. I even cook when I’m bored. I however do not comfort eat. I do not destroy a one week’s groceries in one sitting just because I’m having a bad day – I will just cook and then have a normal sized portion of food, at a normal meal time. Moreover, I find it would be hard to comfort eat in the summer, when no one feels the least bit tempted by shepherd’s pie or a heavy stew packed with winter veg.
Similarly to comfort eaters I do seek out specific flavours at such times though. We are all different, however for most people this will be chocolate, cheese or potatoes. To me, it is soup and chilli. I am really not after a food baby and a carby blanket that would leave ready for the bed, it is the exact opposite I want. I want to awaken my senses and my body and mobilise all of my strengths to get my arse in gear and not dwell on unpleasant thoughts. I kind of crave an equivalent of both a warm hug and a kick in the teeth to get a grip at the same time. And what better* than the fiery kick of tom yam soup, combing both requirements and then some. With a scalded mouth, runny nose and wet eyes from all the chilli heat I cannot but reconsider my current outlook on life. Just what the doctor ordered.
Inspiration for this came courtesy of Nigella, Leon and my grandma and her crazy backpacking adventures in Thailand. I wish I could lay claim to something more authentic. However, my version of the classic has the added bonus of always being available on standby. I had ALL of these ingredients in my cupboard, fridge or freezer. Mussels in tom yum I hear you cry?! I repeat, I did not need to leave the house to buy one single thing, so unfortunately this seafood mix was all I had in the freezer by way of fishy protein. You know what though, it works.
You could also use cubes of fried tofu instead of the chicken or sea food. If you want a completely vegetarian tom yum soup hold the fish sauce, use veg stock cubes and make your own paste as I have no idea what kinds of things go into the jarred stuff so cannot vouch for it. Mine for instance contains shrimp paste.
Tom Yum (ish) (serves anywhere between 2 and 6)
2 tbsp tom yum paste (you can make your own but they are sold in jars which makes life easier)
1 tbsp chopped kaffir lime leaves (I have a bag of frozen lime leaves from Waitrose)
1 stick lemongrass, bashed and finely chopped (optional)
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 chicken stock cubes
2 chillies, de-seeded and chopped finely
2 tbsp grated coconut
1 tsp sugar
100g button mushrooms
handful sugar snap peas
seafood of your preference and/or chicken
5 spring onions, cut diagonally in big chunks
Get a big pan or a wok and start by heating the paste. When it has a runnier consistency add the fish sauce, lime leaves, chillies, coconut, sugar, lemongrass and the water with the stock cubes dissolved in it. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes.
If you are using chicken now is the time to add it to the stock. Carry on simmering for 5-10 minutes. If not, add the sugar snap peas followed by the mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes before adding the sea food and spring onions. Simmer until the seafood is cooked through – 5 minutes should do. Add the lime juice and about a handful of coriander (not chopped at this stage, stalks and all), stir well and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Chop some more coriander and chillis to sprinkle the soup with once in bowls. Check seasoning. Get stuck in.
*All right, all right, chicken soup Jewish style is actually boss. However, considering the amount of chicken I had in the freezer this was not an option.